Bears

Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

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Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

The Cubs were in damage-control mode on Thursday, with Tom Ricketts releasing a statement distancing his franchise from racially divisive issues.

The Cubs had woken up to a New York Times report linking the chairmans father, Joe, to potential attack ads against President Obama funded by a super PAC. The head of the Ricketts family issued a statement rejecting those plans.

The Ending Spending campaign message comes at a politically sensitive time, as the Cubs try to lobby government officials for help with renovating Wrigley Field.

Against that backdrop, Chicago will be hosting the always unpredictable series between the Cubs and White Sox, as well as the NATO summit that will bring an increased security presence around the city this weekend.

The bomb-sniffing dogs were out at Wrigley Field earlier this week (though thats been seen at the stadium before).

Whether its Carlos Zambrano being restrained from Derrek Lee in the dugout, or Michael Barrett punching A.J. Pierzynski at home plate, or Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella talking trash, or fans going after each other in the stands, this usually reaches a boiling point.

Whenever youre involved in these kind of series, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, theres way more tension than in any other series. Thats just a part of it. Am I going to sit here and say: Is anything gonna happen? No, but theres completely different emotions that go on (here) that you dont have in regular series.

So whether its emotions from the fans, emotions from playersits just a whole nother level of baseball.

Sveum and Robin Ventura his former teammate and current counterpart on the South Side are low-key, first-year managers that try to project a sense of calm and dont provide bulletin-board material.

Guillen loved the attention and loved this environment, ripping Wrigley Field and the rats he claimed were running around inside.

If Guillen hadnt taken his talents to South Beach, you could have asked him about the renovations plans or the White Sox fan in the White House.

Thats supposed to be off-limits now for Guillen. Last month in Little Havana the day after the Miami Marlins manager returned from his suspension for making comments about Fidel Castro he was asked how different the crosstown series will be without him.

It will be a big media event still, Guillen said. I tell a lot of people: Besides playing in the World Series or playoffs, thats the closest youre going to get, when you play White Sox-Cubs in town.

A lot of people talk about New York, St. Louis. No, I think (about) that series in Chicago. People take it very seriously and thats a big event in town.

The Cubs and White Sox reportedly might not be guaranteed the same six-game split between Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field next year, when the Houston Astros move to the American League and interleague play rolls on throughout the season.

As a player, its 162 games, every ones important, Cubs utility man Jeff Baker said. Theres not too many outside of Opening Day (and) the playoffs where you really get overexcited. If you lose to the White Sox, its the same as losing to the Reds. (But) its not stale by any means.

On the flip side of that, for the fans, its awesome. Its water-cooler discussion. You see people at gas stations yelling at each other when youre filling up (the car). I know the city likes it and the city appreciates it, so I dont want to say as players its stale to us. We still get up for it. Its still fun. But I think it means a lot more to the fans.

Really, youve seen fans yelling at each other at the gas station?

I have, Baker said. I was picking up family out at Midway (in 2010). There were some Cubs fans out there. (Obviously, that areas) predominantly White Sox fans. They were yelling at each other. It was kind of funny. I kind of pumped my gas quickly and got (away) in my car.

The Bulls and Blackhawks have already been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Bears are weeks away from training camp. This city is going to start focusing on their two sub-.500 baseball teams.

You got to root for someone now, said Jeff Samardzija, who gets the start for the Cubs on Friday. I guess you got to pick the North or the South.

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ranked near the bottom-third in pass protection last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

19. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Evan Bouchard

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"A highly intelligent defenseman with exceptional vision and offensive instincts. He reads the play very well and his passing ability allows him to be a constant threat in his team's transition game. He's one of the top offensive-defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play."

NHL player comparable: John Carlson/Alex Pietrangelo

Fit for Blackhawks:

At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Bouchard is one of the most NHL-ready defensemen in this year's draft and that could be appetizing for a team like the Blackhawks, who are looking for immediate help on the blue line. But Bouchard is a right-handed shot, and drafting him would add a third high-end right-handed shot defenseman to the organization, along with prospects Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell.

You can never have enough of them, but there's only room for three before somebody would have to play on their off hand and that would mean the third would be playing on the bottom pairing. All three of these players have Top 4 potential.

Still, that may not even come into play here. The Blackhawks will seek to take the best available player, like they always have. And if they feel it's Bouchard, they'll do it.